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Emotional Support Dogs for Anxiety: A Complete Guide

If you experience panic attacks or other symptoms of anxiety, an emotional support animal can help. Find out more about emotional support dogs for anxiety.
Expert reviewed by:  
Written by:
Doug Reffue - CEO & Founder of Pettable
Published on:  
September 7, 2022
Updated on:  
September 7, 2022

Emotional support animals can be very helpful for individuals with emotional or mental disabilities. An emotional support animal can provide comfort, love, companionship, and many other things to its owner. Anxiety, whether it’s generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety, or another type of anxiety, is a mental illness that affects many people. People struggling with any number of mental health conditions may find that they could benefit from emotional support. Fortunately, there are several possible treatments prescribed by mental health professionals for anxiety, including therapy and medication.

However, another fantastic resource for people with anxiety is an emotional support animal (ESA). Dogs, cats, and other animals are extremely helpful for many individuals living with mental or emotional disabilities. Emotional support animals provide comfort with just their presence.

Dogs are particularly popular as emotional support animals to help with anxiety. Read on to learn more about emotional support dogs for anxiety and find out how to get your own dog certified as an ESA with an official letter from Pettable.

How is an ESA Different From a Service Dog?

While an emotional support dog for anxiety is an assistance animal and working dog, there are other types of working dogs, too. It's easy to confuse different types of assistance animals and the jobs they all do. An emotional support animal offers relief to its owner from anxiety disorders, panic attacks, anxiety attacks, and other mental or emotional illnesses by being a comforting presence. Service dogs are other dogs that are individually trained to help their owners. A person's disability may affect their physical health, but service dogs can assist people and help them live a more independent life.

Guide Dog

Service dogs are not regular pets. Service dogs are trained to perform specific tasks for their owners. Guide dogs help people who are visually impaired. Guide dogs help their owners navigate around places safely and independently. These service dogs can help their owners perform necessary tasks around the home or out of the home. Guide dogs are just one type of service dog. 

Hearing Dog or Signal Dog

A hearing dog helps a person who is hearing impaired. A hearing dog can ease anxiety for its owner by being trained to alert its owner when it hears important sounds, like a fire alarm. A hearing dog might also alert its owner when it hears a phone ring, a door bell, a fire alarm, or even a crying child. 

Mobility Dog

A mobility dog is another type of service dog that is specially trained. A mobility dog helps people who may struggle to perform tasks because of balance issues or the ability to walk. Mobility dogs usually help people get from one place to another, whether the person is moving by foot or in a wheelchair.  

Psychiatric Service Dog

Psychiatric service dogs help people in a few ways. These service dogs are trained to help people with tasks like bringing medications  or placing pressure with their paws to reduce anxiety. This type of service dog can provide emotional support, but they usually take on certain tasks beyond that.  Read on to learn more about psychiatric service dogs in the "Psychiatric Service Dogs (PSDs) and Anxiety" section below.

These are just a few of the many types of service dogs. Service dogs help people with a particular disability, so they are generally allowed in most public spaces to support their owners. If a service dog is well behaved, its owner should be able to take their service dogs anywhere. If a service dog causes a health or safety concern for anyone, they may not be allowed in restaurants or on airplanes.

What Is an Emotional Support Dog?

An emotional support animal does not have to be a dog, but ESAs usually are dogs. Dogs are easy to train, loyal, and they're smaller than a miniature horse (another popular ESA) whether you get a small dog or a large dog or anything in between. An emotional support dog is a dog that provides comfort to an individual with an emotional or mental disability by offering comfort and reducing stress. Any breed of dog can be an emotional support animal, and no special training is required. Emotional support dogs can help with a wide range of mental illnesses:

  • Social anxiety
  • Depression
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Generalize anxiety disorder
  • PTSD
  • Panic disorder
  • Agoraphobia

There are many other conditions that emotional support animals can help with. While any type of dog can be an ESA, that doesn’t mean that all pet dogs are automatically emotional support animals . There are a few steps you need to take to verify that your dog is an official emotional support animal.

Can an Emotional Support Dog Help With Anxiety?

Yes. Anxiety is one of the many conditions that an emotional support dog can help with. Emotional support animals provide many benefits to anyone struggling with anxiety. Emotional support animals don’t need to be trained to perform specific tasks, but there are several ways that an ESA dog can help a person with anxiety:

  • Providing a calming and soothing presence
  • Offering affection through cuddles
  • Distracting from anxious thoughts
  • Encouraging healthy activities like walking outside

Many people find that they can better cope with symptoms of anxiety when they have the responsibility to feed, care for, and walk their ESA dog every day. Anxiety levels can also drop when feel-good hormones are released when a person pets their emotional support animal. There aren’t any restrictions when it comes to which dog breeds would be best as emotional support animals.

Can Any Dog Help With Anxiety?

Dogs are amazing creatures, as any owner knows. Human animal interactions are proven to brighten up both a pet's life and a pet owner's life. Dogs offer unconditional love and support, and they can help their owners feel comforted, safe, and encouraged. Any pet dog can provide these benefits to their owner, but an ESA is a dog who helps in an “official” capacity.

Any type of dog can help with anxiety, and there are no restrictions on what breed of dog can be an emotional support animal. The key is to choose a dog that you can bond with and that makes you feel safe and less anxious. While Labs and Golden Retrievers are very common ESA dogs, any breed can be an effective helper for a person with anxiety.

Dogs and Mental Health

Dogs can significantly improve mental health. Dozens of scientific studies agree with countless anecdotal stories of people feeling happier, calmer, less lonely, and less stressed when they have a dog.

People with dogs often have lower blood pressure and a reduced risk of heart disease. Just being around a dog can elevate positive hormones like dopamine and oxytocin. The benefits that a dog provides can counteract the symptoms of many different mental disabilities:

  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • PTSD
  • Social anxiety
  • Panic disorder

Having a pet dog can provide countless mental health benefits. Getting your dog recognized as an ESA gives you the legal right to keep them with you wherever you want to live without having to worry about pet restrictions and fees.

Psychiatric Service Dogs (PSDs) and Anxiety

While dogs (both pets and ESAs) can provide comfort and support for a range of anxiety-related mental illnesses, there are also psychiatric service dogs (PSDs). As stated earlier, a PSD is considered a service animal (like a guide dog) by the government. Service animals have many legal protections under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Unlike ESAs, PSDs do need to have special training. A psychiatric service dog is trained to perform one or more tasks that are directly related to their owner’s mental disability. Here are some items not previously mentioned that PSDs can do:

  • Remind a person to take anxiety medication at specific times
  • Soothe an individual during a panic attack
  • Interrupt self-harm behaviors during an anxiety attack
  • Detect a panic attack before it happens and follow alert procedures
  • Prepare a room (checking for safety issues, turning on lights) before entry by an individual with PTSD
  • Call for help during a panic attack

There are many other tasks that a psychiatric service dog can perform to help their owner reduce the debilitating symptoms of anxiety-related mental illnesses.

Under the ADA, PSDs are recognized as service animals and have the right to stay with their owner in most places, including homes, shops, restaurants, workplaces, schools, airplanes, and hotels. Service animals cannot be denied entry based on pet restrictions.

How Do I Get My Dog Certified as an Emotional Support Animal?

Both ESAs and PSDs have legal protections under federal law. The Fair Housing Act gives you the right to keep your ESA in your home regardless of the housing provider’s pet restrictions. Psychiatric service dogs can accompany their owners basically anywhere under the ADA. In order to ensure you get these accommodations, you need to have documentation from a mental health professional proving that your dog is an ESA or PSD.

The document you need for your ESA or PSD is a letter written and signed by a licensed mental health professional (LMHP). The easiest way to get one is to go through Pettable. This online service helps you understand whether you meet the eligibility requirements for an ESA or PSD and then connects you to an LMHP for a telehealth evaluation.

During the consultation, you can discuss your symptoms so the LMHP can determine if you have a qualifying mental or emotional disability. If so, you can get your official signed ESA Letter or PSD Letter.

You can show an ESA Letter to a landlord to ensure you and your emotional support dog are accommodated according to the Fair Housing Act. With a PSD Letter, you can take your dog with you on airplanes, to work or school, and in most public places.

To get started with Pettable, take the quick pre-screening quiz. If you meet the eligibility requirements, you’ll have the chance to connect with a licensed mental health provider who can evaluate your condition and write you an official ESA Letter or PSD Letter for your dog.

Meet the author:
Doug Reffue - CEO & Founder of Pettable

Growing up in upstate New York with a dog named Boo and a cat named Ziti, Doug has been a lifelong animal lover. He currently lives in Massachusetts with his wife, two children and his dog Layla.  

Doug was an early employee at Embark Veterinary where he led the sales and marketing efforts for the world’s premier Dog DNA test. He has held executive positions at a variety of companies within several industries including professional sports, skincare and home fragrance.